Amy McNamara’s debut teen novel Lovely, Dark and Deep.
This is the story of Wren, who has fled her New York home to hide away in her father’s house in the Maine woods. All she wants is to be alone, to not talk, to not have to answer to everyone’s expectations. She wants to be cold and hard, to block out the person she was before and the accident that changed everything. But the world has a way of slipping its way back in - will she let it, or how far is she willing to go to block it out?
McNamara’s portrayal of Wren’s grief is immense and realistic, a story that clearly comes from her heart, and there is some essence of beauty wrapped up within the book that struck deep within me. Some people expect Wren to just get up one day and be better, an attitude that simply drives her deeper, until she quietly, gradually, gathers people around her who inspire subtle changes - handsome Cal, who has his own difficulties to work through, her quiet father, and Zara, who has, perhaps, the best kind of words Wren could hope for.
I was pulled into Wren’s drowning world right from the beginning, but what I loved best about Lovely, Dark and Deep was the symbology interwoven between the cover, the title, and the story within. The image of a snow-covered tree speaks firstly of the cold desolation Wren is feeling, secondly of a particular event in the book where she becomes lost in the dark woods surrounding her father’s home and, thirdly, of the perfectly scripted title, a quote from Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. And then there are the papercut snowflakes scattered around the girl in the picture, referencing a second event in the storyline that is itself incredibly symbolic: after being pushed into reading a set of her friend’s letters, thereby being forced to retread a period she’s trying to move away from, Wren rebels by grabbing a pair of scissors, folding the letters up, and cutting them down into paper snowflakes, an act of turning something ugly into something beautiful and a transformation similar to that which Wren is seeking to perform on herself.
McNamara ties all these elements together with a seemingly effortless ease, subtly entreating Wren - and me - to consider the importance of being true to who you are and how you feel, an idea that is not always easy to adhere to, but one worthy of remembering. Wren must navigate the title, the deep dark woods of grief; the miles to go before she sleeps, but she’ll get there. Wonderful.